George RR Martin is known widely for his fantasy books, especially his Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to you HBO fans). But in the 1970s and early 1980s, prior to his work in TV, Martin dabbled in both fantasy and science fiction. From that period comes Tuf Voyaging. The book is a set of linked novellas all featuring the same main character, Haviland Tuf. Tuf is not your typical hero, but usually ends up on the winning side of whatever contest he enters. Let’s check out what Haviland Tuf is up to.
The explorers didn’t chose Haviland Tuf to take them on a treasure hunt because he was talented and powerful. They chose him because he was a solo trader with his own ship and appeared to be someone they could easily buy off with a small price, even if the treasure is real and valuable. The treasure is a seedship (a ship used for seeding planets and has the tools to let Ecological Engineers custom tailor plants and animals to a new environment) from a bygone Empire. The seedship is almost priceless, but first the explorers need to get past the self-defense traps within the ship. Tuf manages to outlast, if not outwit, the treasure hunters and, as the last man standing, the ship is his.
Tuf first needs to get the ship repaired and goes to S’uthlam, a world with a huge problem. Their food production just can’t keep up with their increasing population. A religion that emphasizes life at all costs controls the world and procreation is the national pastime.. Tuf avoids getting his ship taken away from him, by using the seedship to create new plants that will provide even more food. But the problem doesn’t go away that easily. S’uthlam appears in three of the novellas as its world causes more problems than Tuf can fix. Tuf also journeys to other worlds and uses his wits, ethics and increasing skill with the seedship to solve problems, even if it isn’t always the problem the world wants solved.
Linked together with Tuf is Tolly Mune from S’uthlam, both by their shared insistence on ethically solving the S’uthlam problem (even though their ethics don’t always agree) and by an unfortunate bio-picture, which Mune pens as a way to raise funds (and a PR opportunity) for her court case. Mune is the nearest thing to a co-star in this book, as she appears as a main character in all the S’uthlam stories. Also joining Tuf on his journeys is a rotating set of cats who live aboard the ship. Tuf is able to use them to his advantage at times, even if he’s the only one who appreciates what they can do.
The book is a set of linked novellas with Tuf taking on planet after planet in his seedship. Tuf is a hard person to figure out. He is extremely ethical (within his definition of ethics), but not afraid to tips things in his favor as needed. He’s extremely practical and seems to have more luck than any one person should have. He makes his way through the universe with his smarts and his luck and always ends up on top. It’s a fun read that has some interested scenarios. But you really need to like Tuf to enjoy the book, and he’s not an easy man to like. Recommended.